Cognitive vs. generative construction grammar: The case of coercion and argument structure

Remi van Trijp 1
  • 1 Sony Computer Science Laboratory Paris, 6 rue Amyot, 75005 Paris, France
Remi van Trijp


One of the most salient hallmarks of construction grammar is its approach to argument structure and coercion: rather than positing many different verb senses in the lexicon, the same lexical construction may freely interact with multiple argument structure constructions. This view has however been criticized from within the construction grammar movement for leading to overgeneration. This paper argues that this criticism falls flat for two reasons: (1) lexicalism, which is the alternative solution proposed by the critics, has already been proven to overgenerate itself, and (2) the argument of overgeneration becomes void if grammar is implemented as a problem-solving model rather than as a generative competence model; a claim that the paper substantiates through a computational operationalization of argument structure and coercion in Fluid Construction Grammar. The paper thus shows that the current debate on argument structure is hiding a much more fundamental rift between practitioners of construction grammar that touches upon the role of grammar itself.

    • Supplementary Material
  • Baker, Collin F., Charles J. Fillmore & John B. Lowe. 1998. The Berkeley FrameNet project. Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Computational Linguistics. Morristown, NJ: ACL.

  • Barðdal, Jóhanna (ed.). 2008. Productivity: Evidence from case and argument structure in Icelandic. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Boas, Hans C. 2003. A constructional approach to resultatives. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

  • Boas, Hans C. 2008a. Determining the structure of lexical entries and grammatical constructions in construction grammar. Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics 6, 113–144.

  • Boas, Hans C. 2008b. Resolving form-meaning discrepancies in construction grammar. In Jaakko Leino (ed.), Constructional reorganization, 11–36. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Boas, Hans C. & Ivan A. Sag (eds.). 2012. Sign-based construction grammar. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

  • Bos, Johan. 2011. A survey of computational semantics: Representation, inference and knowledge in wide-coverage text understanding. Language and Linguistics Compass 5(6). 336–366.

  • Bouma, Gosse & Gertjan van Noord. 1994. Constraint-based categorial grammar. Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Association of Computational Linguistics, 147–154. Las Cruces: ACL.

  • Briscoe, Ted & Ann Copestake. 1999. Lexical rules in constraint-based grammars. Computational Linguistics 25(4). 487–526.

  • Bybee, Joan. 2010. Language, usage and cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Carpenter, Bob. 1991. The generative power of categorial grammars and head-driven phrase structure grammars with lexical rules. Computational Linguistics 17(3). 301–313.

  • Charniak, Eugene. 1993. Statistical language learning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Chomsky, Noam. 1956. Three models for the description of language. IRE Transactions on Information Theory 2. 113–124.

  • Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic structures. The Hague & Paris: Mouton.

  • Chomsky, Noam. 1965. Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Croft, William. 1998. Event structure in argument linking. In Miriam Butt & Wilhelm Geuder (eds.), The projection of arguments: Lexical and compositional factors, 21–63. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

  • Croft, William. 2003. Lexical rules vs. constructions: A false dichotomy. In Hubert Cuyckens, Thomas Berg, René Dirven & Klaus-Uwe Panther (eds.), Motivation in language studies: Studies in honour of Günter Radden, 49–68. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Fillmore, Charles J. 1970. The grammar of hitting and breaking. In Roderick A. Jacobs & Peter S. Rosenbaum (eds.), Readings in English transformational grammar, 120–133. Waltham, MA: Glinn and Company.

  • Fillmore, Charles J. 1976. Frame semantics and the nature of language. In Steven R. Harnad, Horst D. Steklis & Jane Lancaster (eds.), Origins and evolution of language and speech, 20–32. New York: New York Academy of Sciences.

  • Gibson, Edward. 1998. Linguistic complexity: Locality of syntactic dependencies. Cognition 68(1). 1–76.

  • Goldberg, Adele E. 1995. Constructions: A construction grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

  • Goldberg, Adele E. 2006. Constructions at work: The nature of generalization in language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Goldberg, Adele E. 2011. Corpus evidence of the viability of statistical preemption. Cognitive Linguistics 22(1). 131–154.

  • Goldberg, Adele E. & Ray Jackendoff. 2004. The English resultative as a family of constructions. Language 80(3). 532–568.

  • Hale, John T. 2003. The information conveyed by words in sentences. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 32(2). 101–123.

  • Iwata, Seizi. 2002. Does MANNER count or not? Manner-of-motion verbs revisited. Linguistics 40(1). 61–110.

  • Iwata, Seizi. 2008. Locative alternation: A lexical-constructional approach. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Jaeger, T. Florian & Harry Tily. 2011. On language ‘utility’: Processing complexity and communicative efficiency. WIREs: Cognitive Science 2(3). 323–335.

  • Jurafsky, Dan. 2003. Probabilistic modeling in psycholinguistics: Linguistic comprehension and production. In Rens Bod, Jennifer Hay & Stefanie Jannedy (eds.), Probabilistic linguistics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Jurafsky, Dan & James H. Martin. 2000. Speech and language processing. An introduction to natural language processing, computational linguistics, and speech recognition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

  • Kay, Martin. 1979. Functional grammar. Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 142–158. Berkeley: BLS.

  • Kay, Martin. 2011. Zipf’s law and l’arbitraire du signe. Linguistic Issues in Language Technology 6. (accessed 17 February 2015).

  • Kay, Paul. 2005. Argument structure constructions and the argument-adjunct distinction. In Mirjam Fried & Hans C. Boas (eds.), Grammatical constructions: Back to the roots, 71–98. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Kay, Paul & Laura A. Michaelis. 2012. Constructional meaning and compositionality. In Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger & Paul Portner (eds.), Semantics: An international handbook of natural language meaning, vol. 3, 2271–2296. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.

  • Keenan, Edward L. & Leonard M. Faltz. 1985. Boolean semantics for natural language. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.

  • Levin, Beth & Malka Rappaport Hovav. 2005. Argument realization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Loreto, Vittorio, Andrea Baronchelli, Animesh Mukherjee, Andrea Puglisi & Francesca Tria. 2011. Statistical physics of language dynamics. Journal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Experiment. doi:.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • Meurers, Detmar & Guido Minnen. 1997. A computational treatment of lexical rules in HPSG as covariation in lexical entries. Computational Linguistics 23(4). 543–568.

  • Michaelis, Laura. 2013. Sign-based construction grammar. In Thomas Hoffman & Graham Trousdale (eds.), The Oxford handbook of construction grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Morita, Joe. 1998. Some notes on prepositional resultatives. Tsukuba English Studies 17. 319–340.

  • Müller, Stefan. 2006. Lexical or phrasal constructions? Language 82(4). 850–883.

  • Müller, Stefan & Stefan Wechsler. 2014. Lexical approaches to argument structure. Theoretical Linguistics 40(1–2). 1–76.

  • Nemoto, Noriko. 1998. On the polysemy of ditransitive save: The role of frame semantics in construction grammar. English Linguistics 15. 219–242.

  • Penn, Gerald. 2012. Computational linguistics. In Ruth Kempson, Tim Fernando & Nicholas Asher (eds.), Philosophy of linguistics, 143–174. Amsterdam: North Holland.

  • Pollard, Carl & Ivan A. Sag. 1994. Head-driven phrase structure grammar. Chicago & Stanford: University of Chicago Press/CSLI Publications.

  • Sag, Ivan A. & Thomas Wasow. 2011. Performance-compatible competence grammar. In Robert D. Borsley & Kersti Börjars (eds.), Non-transformational syntax: Formal and explicit models of grammar, 359–377. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

  • Steels, Luc. 1995. A self-organizing spatial vocabulary. Artificial Life 2(3). 319–332.

  • Steels, Luc (ed.). 2011. Design patterns in Fluid Construction Grammar. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Steels, Luc (ed.). 2012a. Computational issues in Fluid Construction Grammar. Heidelberg: Springer Verlag.

  • Steels, Luc (ed.). 2012b. Experiments in cultural language evolution. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Steels, Luc & Joachim De Beule. 2006. Unify and merge in Fluid Construction Grammar. In Paul Vogt, Yuuga Sugita, Elio Tuci & Chrystopher Nehaniv (eds.), Symbol grounding and beyond: Third international workshop on the emergence and evolution of linguistic communication (EELC2006), 197–223. Berlin: Springer Verlag.

  • van Trijp, Remi. 2011. A design pattern for argument structure constructions. In Luc Steels (ed.), Design patterns in Fluid Construction Grammar, 115–145. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • van Trijp, Remi. 2015. The evolution of case grammar. Berlin: Language Science Press.

  • van Trijp, Remi & Luc Steels. 2012. Multilevel alignment maintains language systematicity. Advances in complex systems 15(3–4). 1250039.

  • Wellens, Pieter. 2011. Organizing constructions in networks. In Luc Steels (ed.), Design patterns in Fluid Construction Grammar, 181–201. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Log in with your institution

Journal + Issues

Cognitive Linguistics presents a forum for linguistic research of all kinds on the interaction between language and cognition. The journal focuses on language as an instrument for organizing, processing and conveying information. It is devoted to high-quality research on topics such as the structural characteristics of natural language categorization and the functional principles of linguistic organization.